Rent Keeps Going Up — “Arlington’s median apartment-rental rate remains highest in the metropolitan area and has fully rebounded from dropoffs during the early part of COVID, according to new data. With a median rental rate of $1,999 for a one-bedroom unit and $2,391 for two bedrooms in May, Arlington’s average rental… is now up just under 13 percent year-over-year.” [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Making Much Multifamily — From a spokesperson, about a new set of national rankings: “Multi-family units authorized in Arlington increased by 1,095.8% — a total addition of 2,838 units — between 2020 and 2021. Out of all midsize cities, Arlington experienced the 5th largest increase in multi-family home construction.” [Construction Coverage]
Group Decries Missing Middle ‘D-Day’ — From WAMU’s Ally Schweitzer: “With Arlington expected to enact zoning reforms allowing denser housing in more nabes, the group [Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future] is ramping up its rhetoric in opposition. The group’s latest blast calls the expected vote day ‘D-Day.’ They’ve said the county is ‘declaring war’ on single-family nabes.” [Twitter]
Parking Removed for Transitway Extension — From the National Landing BID: “Parking lanes along Crystal Drive and 12th Street South will be closed to make way for the Transitway Extension Project beginning Wednesday, June 15, 2022.” [Twitter]
Pedestrian Struck in Bluemont — From Dave Statter last night: “Report of a pedestrian struck at Wilson Blvd & George Mason Dr. Appears to be a bicyclist. There was also bicyclist struck last week a block away. @ArlingtonVaFD & @ArlingtonVaPD handling.” [Twitter]
Amazon Buys HQ2 Phase 2 Site — “Amazon.com Inc. has acquired the roughly 11 vacant acres in Pentagon City that will soon be developed as PenPlace, the massive second phase of HQ2. The $198 million deal with JBG Smith, as expected, follows Arlington County’s late April approval of PenPlace, a nearly 3.3 million-square-foot project slated to include three traditional office buildings, a spiral Helix tower, three retail pavilions, a central park and an underground parking garage.” [Washington Business Journal]
Environmental Finding on HQ2 Site — “Crude oil particles have been found in the soil at Amazon.com Inc.’s PenPlace, the site of the second phase of its second headquarters buildout in Arlington County, per a public notice published Monday in The Washington Post… The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality conducted a risk assessment for the particles, finding that the amount poses ‘no material risk to current or future site occupants,’ according to the notice.” [Washington Business Journal]
It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day with some rain possible. High of 76 and low of 63. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:33 pm. [Weather.gov]
Ground was officially broken yesterday morning on the first phase of the $29 million extension of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway.
At a brief ceremony on Monday (May 9) near the site of a future Crystal City bus station, at the intersection of 12th Street S. and Long Bridge Drive, local officials gathered for remarks and photos with golden shovels to christen the first phase of the long-planned transit project.
“The transit way extension is really important because it is going to support the increase in regional travel demand in Pentagon City, Crystal City, and our partners in Potomac Yard,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol during the ceremony. “As they continue to boom with the arrival of new businesses.”
Just last week, aerospace company Boeing announced it was moving its corporate headquarters to its existing Crystal City office — a short distance from where the groundbreaking was taking place.
The planned Pentagon City extension will add just over a mile to the 4.5-mile rapid bus transit corridor, eventually to connecting Amazon HQ2 and the Pentagon City Metro station. The Transitway will include center-running transit-only lanes cutting through 12th Street.
The first phase is expected to take about a year to finish, with an estimated April 2023 completion date. The work over the next 12 months will include the installation of two new transit stations at Crystal Drive and 15th Street S. and at 12th Street S. and Long Bridge Drive.
Locals will also see streetscape improvements along 12th Street S. between S. Eads Street and S. Clark Street, as well as the intersection of 12th Street S. and Crystal Drive. Some existing street parking along the route will become part of the dedicated bus lane.
Surveying work started last month with actual construction expected to start in June, a county spokesperson told ARLnow. Street parking will be limited in some of those areas when construction begins, but residents will be notified prior.
The Transitway is dedicated infrastructure for the Metroway rapid bus transit line. It first debuted in 2014 and was hailed for being the first of its kind in the region. While it has achieved some of its initial goals, a lack of ridership, planned features not yet implemented, and confused motorists sometimes driving the wrong way in bus-only lanes have been ongoing challenges.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) is contributing most of the funds needed for the extension, including $19 million to the first phase alone.
“I believe in the scope and I believe in the extension,” said Randall, who is also the Loudoun County Board Chair. “We know that people are going to keep moving to Northern Virginia… for jobs, for schools, for so many reasons. We need these transit options because people are coming here. I don’t think the need is diminished at all.”
Boeing’s increased presence in the neighborhood was noted several times in the ceremony as further proof that this extension is needed.
While it may not result in many new jobs, Cristol said the corporate giant’s decision shows that the county’s efforts in becoming more business-friendly are working.
“Arlington has spent a lot of time during my tenure on the [County] Board to reoriented ourselves to be more business friendly, to be more creative, to be more flexible, and to build better relationships with our commercial tenants. So, it feels like validation,” she told ARLnow.
Work is kicking off this week on an extension to the Crystal City-Potomac Yard transitway.
The project will eventually extend a dedicated corridor for rapid bus transit to Amazon’s HQ2 and the Pentagon City Metro station. Construction is now getting underway on the first segment of the extension.
The work will include the installation of two new transit stations at Crystal Drive and 15th Street S. and 12th Street S. and Long Bridge Drive, as well as street improvements along 12th Street S. stretching from Crystal City to Pentagon City.
Construction is expected to take a year, according to the county, and should be completed in April 2023.
The Transitway extension to Pentagon City will add more than a mile to the existing 4.5 mile corridor, including center-running transit-only lanes cutting through 12th Street.
The two new transit stations that will be built over the next year are among four others that are scheduled for construction. The stations will be similar in appearance to the existing Transitway stations on Crystal Drive and Clark Street.
Impact on commuters is supposed to be minimal, with work taking place Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Portions of the northbound curbside lane along Crystal Drive, between 12th Street S. and 15th Street S. and up to Long Bridge Drive, will be inaccessible due to it being used as a construction staging area.
Existing street parking on that side of Crystal Drive will eventually become a transit-only lane, though the county has not given an exact timetable for when that might happen.
The street improvements will focus on the stretch of 12th Street S. from S. Eads Street to S. Clark Street in Crystal City and the intersection of 12th Street S. at Crystal Drive.
The work will include sidewalks, streetlights, pedestrian ramps, and new crosswalks at Army Navy Drive. There will also be a two-way bicycle facility under the Route 1 overpass, the first step in linking a planned bike track extending from Army Navy Drive to a multi-use path along S. Bell Street that will eventually go to the Crystal City Metro station. The design phase for that is nearly complete, with construction coming potentially this year.
The Transitway is the dedicated infrastructure for the Metroway rapid bus transit line that debuted in 2014. It was the first of its kind in the region and hailed as a public transportation achievement.
The transit line was designed to provide covered stations, more frequent service and newer buses, driving along a route connecting Arlington and Alexandria. The $42 million price tag was split evenly between Arlington and Alexandria.
While intended to boost bus ridership and provide accessibility to neighborhoods that are rapidly developing, the line has achieved only some of those goals and has been plagued by lack of riders. Additionally, planned features like off-board fare collection have not yet been implemented, and confused motorists sometimes drive the wrong way in the bus-only lanes.
Many are predicting that the pandemic will drastically affect how we commute and use public transportation for the foreseeable future.
How that will impact long-term transportation projects, like the Metroway bus rapid transit line and the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway extension to Pentagon City, is a puzzle that local officials are trying to put together.
In 2021, according to Metro’s data, bus ridership overall is down by close to two thirds from 2019. And those numbers may not increase a whole lot for at least a couple of years.
“It really is something that we all are literally struggling with to understand,” Arlington County’s Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers told ARLnow. The transit bureau was responsible for building out the initial Transitway infrastructure, as well as the forthcoming Pentagon City extension. “Now… we’re talking 2023 when we’re going to start seeing the same levels [of bus riderships] that we had before.”
Even as more people head back to the office and lockdowns are no longer in effect, traffic patterns have shifted particularly on the roads. There’s now less traffic in the mornings, allowing cars and buses to get to their destination quicker.
“People are changing their patterns and how they are using the service,” Rivers said. “The huge rush hours in the morning and in the afternoon, we may not see that.”
Instead of seeing huge jumps in use during peak times — 6-9 a.m. in the morning and 3-7 p.m. in the evening — Rivers said there may be a leveling-out of how commuters use train and bus transit.
“Throughout the day, there will be constant movement,” she said.
This shift could be at least somewhat permanent and largely due to still a large number of folks continuing to work from home. Those that are going to the office, meanwhile, are spending fewer hours there.
(Nearly half of readers who responded to a ARLnow morning poll in October said they were still working from home.)
In response, and to encourage more people to use the bus system, Metro increased the frequency of the Metroway back in Sep last month (as well as other bus lines). It now runs every 12 minutes on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., in a bid to encourage ridership.
This shift in commuting patterns comes just as the county unveiled design plans last months for Pentagon City extension of the Transitway. While it comes with a price tag of nearly $28 million, most of the cost will be financed by the state and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Arlington is contributing about $1.8 million to the project, according to county officials.
Nonetheless, that’s still a significant use of tax dollars at a time when commuting is down and there are plenty of competing priorities. When the rapid bus transit system in Arlington was first conceived more than a decade ago, an airborne illness was not infecting millions across the globe.
With the knowledge that Covid spreads more easily in indoor settings, there could be hesitation among some commuters to be in crowded spaces with strangers despite relatively high local vaccination rates.
“Are we really going to cram back on a bus?” Chris Slatt, Arlington Transportation Commission chair and founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County, asks rhetorically. “Are we going to want to be crowded into a Metro train as we were two or three years ago?”
John Vihstadt, former County Board member who vehemently opposed the Columbia Pike streetcar project, which he helped to scuttle, agrees that shifting commuter behaviors could make the Transitway not as a sound an investment as it once appeared.
While an avid public transit user himself and, generally, in favor of bus rapid transit — opponents of the streetcar argued that BRT along the Pike was a cost-effective alternative to a light rail system — Vihstadt thinks the county needs to do more modeling and forecasting of people’s commuting patterns before moving ahead with the build out.
“We can’t stick our heads in the sand and just expect that everything is going to ultimately return to the status quo,” he tells ARLnow.
A decade ago, when Arlington County was in the midst of planning the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway for the future Metroway bus rapid transit line, the Route 1 corridor looked a lot different.
Development was still ongoing in the corridor, which encompasses Pentagon City and Crystal City, and Amazon was still years away from selecting the area for its HQ2.
There were just over 17,000 residents in the corridor and nearly three quarters of them lived in rental units, according to 2010 county census data. By 2020, that number had risen by about 15% to 20,000 residents. Renters now occupy 91% of the housing stock, according to county data.
While there have been plenty of bumps along the road, including the continued delay of the Potomac Yard Metro station and low ridership during the pandemic, at least one transportation advocate praises the county for looking ahead.
“To do this later, after the development happens, would have been 20 times harder. 100 times harder,” Chris Slatt, Arlington Transportation Commission chair and founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington, told ARLnow. “I really give Arlington a lot of credit.”
In terms of Potomac Yard, Slatt made the point that this was an extremely rare opportunity where urban and transportation planners had the ability to start anew and could try out their best laid plans without dealing with already existing infrastructure.
“Potomac Yard was this kind of special opportunity that we don’t have very often,” said Slatt. “I’m sure there are a lot of other places in Northern Virginia where we can say we’re basically a new neighborhood from scratch.”
Local officials agree, which is why the Metroway is such an exciting project for them.
“For mass transit planners… it is a lot easier to design the infrastructure when you’re starting from scratch rather than trying to retrofit it into a pre-existing system, particularly if you want dedicated [transit] lanes,” said Eric Randall, principal transportation engineer with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG).
Plus, he noted, it’s easier for residents to get in the “frame of mind” to use the mass transit option if it is there initially, as opposed to needing to break their previous habits.
ARLnow has received reports of cars entering the Transitway’s bus lanes, often even driving the wrong direction in the lanes, which parallel Crystal Drive for about a mile. It seems to mostly stem from confusion over the roadway configuration.
Mark Stack lives in the Concord Crystal City apartments, directly across from a Transitway bus station at 27th Street S. and Crystal Drive. From the high-rise building he can see cars in the lanes that are intended only for Metroway buses.
“Just today, [there was] one car on the wrong side of the road and two other vehicles traveling down the bus lane,” he told ARLnow. “It’s a daily, hourly occurrence. It’s not like once or twice. It happens pretty often.”
Walking in his neighborhood, Stack has also seen cars entering the lanes near the bus stops located 33rd Street S. and 26th Street S. along Crystal Drive. He’s fearful that drivers going the wrong direction will hit buses head-on or kids bicycling, which he also sees often in the lanes (which, technically, is also not allowed).
“I’m just surprised there’s never been any accidents,” Stack said. “It’s a miracle.”
ARLnow also checked out several of the intersections and Transitway bus stops that Stack spoke about. While no unauthorized vehicles were observed in the lanes at the time, it’s evident confusion could be possible, particularly at night.
There are right and left turn lanes leading directly into the bus lanes, as well as dark red markings that may not be clearly visible at night. There are, however, “do not enter” signs and medians that do prevent mingling of traffic.
Darren Buck, a member of Arlington County’s Transportation Commission, also has seen unauthorized cars going into the dedicated bus lanes. While the danger does concern him, he additionally worries that drivers are intentionally entering them to bypass traffic
“If that’s the case, the success of the Transitway is at risk,” he says, since one of the major selling points of rapid bus transit is that it removes buses from car traffic. “[There] probably needs to be a broader conversation about enforcement in bus-exclusive facilities.”
The county acknowledges that unauthorized vehicles using the bus lanes, intentionally or not, is an ongoing issue that dates back to the Transitway’s opening.
“[Arlington Department of Environmental Services] staff have been made aware of issues with operations on the Crystal City – Potomac Yard Transitway, specifically regarding private vehicles using and misusing the dedicated transit lanes in 2016,” DES spokesperson Nathan Graham wrote in an email to ARLnow. He noted that they have received reports of this happening recently.
In response, transportation staff earlier this year applied red pavement markings to highlight the bus-only lanes at several of the Transitway segments, Graham said, including at 27th Street S. and Potomac Avenue, 33rd Street S. and Crystal Drive, and 26th Street S. and Crystal Drive.
“Moving forward, we will enhance this practice of clearly denoting entry points for bus-only lanes and at areas where there are reports of driver confusion with additional paint and signage, as appropriate,” wrote Graham. “We will also reach out to our colleagues at ACPD to review options for enforcement at these locations.”
All of these are issues that the county will keep in mind as the build-out for the extension to Pentagon City begins next year.
When Metroway, the region’s first rapid bus transit line, launched in 2014 it was hailed as the future.
Dedicated lanes, more frequent service, covered stations, and bigger, newer buses along a 4.5-mile route connecting Arlington and Alexandria would boost bus ridership in sections of both jurisdictions that were rapidly developing.
The price tag was big — more than $42 million, split nearly evenly between Arlington and Alexandria — but officials believed it was worth it and could have the added benefit of revving up rapid bus transit elsewhere in the D.C. area.
“A lot of people will be looking to this project as a test concept to find out what lessons they can learn from it,” said Eric Randall, a senior transportation engineer at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), at the time. “It offers us an opportunity to apply some concepts for the first time — things like off-board fare collection, a design of bus stops with higher platforms and custom design shelters, a new branding and frequency of buses.”
It’s now 2021, seven years since Metroway’s launch, and it seems like a good time to ask the question: what have we learned from Metroway, the region’s first rapid bus transit?
Despite less-than-stellar ridership numbers and outside factors, rapid bus transit with dedicated infrastructure remains a worthy investment, according to local officials and public transportation advocates.
“I live in Alexandria and take Metroway monthly, from my perspective as a user, I think it’s a success,” Randall told ARLnow earlier this fall. He remains a transportation engineer with MWCOG.
“[Metroway] is doing what it’s supposed to be doing,” said Lynn Rivers, Arlington County’s Transit Bureau Chief. “Which is getting people out of their cars and onto the transit lanes.”
“Metroway is great,” said Sustainable Mobility for Arlington founder and Arlington Transportation Commission chair Chris Slatt . “It’s fantastic to have an example in Arlington of a dedicated space for transit. We really want to make transit time competitive with other ways to get around… and I think it does that.”
What’s more, the county is investing further into the needed infrastructure. In September, the county unveiled designs to extend the Transitway by an additional five stations and 1.1 miles so that it connects with the Pentagon City Metro station (not to mention areas close to Amazon’s new HQ2). While some advocates expressed their frustration about the lack of community engagement on street designs, their complaints were not necessarily about the concept of rapid bus transit or Metroway.
The extension is costing nearly $28 million, though most of it will be financed by the state and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Arlington itself is spending about $1.8 million, according to Rivers, which is only about 6% of the project’s total cost.
Construction on the first segment is expected to start in the winter of 2022 with completion in late 2023.
That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges. Off-board fare collection, even though it was promised, has not been implemented yet. There’ve been sightings of confused motorists, as reported by ARLnow readers, driving their cars the wrong way in the dedicated bus lanes, despites signs and marked roads. Ridership hasn’t been as high as perhaps expected, leading to 2016 reports that shutting it down was being considered.
For that, the lack of steady progress in terms of development at Potomac Yard and issues with opening the Metro station there are being blamed.
“Certain forecasts way back when were perhaps based on more optimistic assumptions in terms of development [in Potomac Yard],” admitted Randall.
But progress on the project has elicited frustration from some local transit advocates, residents and community leaders.
The project will extend the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway north with a direct connection to the Pentagon City Metrorail station, while increasing trip frequency for bus riders. County staff say these changes will facilitate a “high frequency premium transit service” that will “add transportation capacity to support current and anticipated development in the area,” according to the county.
A meeting was held last night (Wednesday) to explain what residents and road users can expect in the first phase of the Transitway Extension project. People will also see changes to 12th Street S. during this phase of the project, as DES has decided to merge the extension work with “complete streets” improvements to 12th Street S., which curves south and becomes Crystal Drive near Long Bridge Park.
Those opposed say they are frustrated by the lack of community engagement when the designs were developed — last night’s meeting presented 100% complete designs — and say they have questions that have gone unanswered.
“I love the Transitway, and I’m eager to see it completed and see Metroway buses running more often, but I do not have confidence that DES has really done their best work on these plans, and am positive that they do not want to hear from the community,” Transportation Commission member Darren Buck tells ARLnow.
Transit advocates say the proposed configuration of the road and the sidewalk will not support the projected increase in folks living in the area, with the arrival of Amazon and other development concentrated in the area. Particularly, they say, the proposed 10-foot sidewalks will not provide enough space for bus riders and people traveling through the area on foot or scooter, as well as cyclists who will one day be able to connect to D.C. via Long Bridge Park’s esplanade.
County staff say the designs do respond to community comments and that the project cannot make changes that would disturb underground parking garages. Staff could not respond to follow-up questions before this article’s publication.
According to the staff presentation, the designs have been modified in response to concerns for pedestrian safety and circulation near the stations. The plans feature enough room for pedestrians to walk around the bus stations and to walk safely while buses make the sharp turn from Crystal Drive to 12th Street S, they said.
Two bus stations will be installed along the curb as part of the Transitway Extension. The road will be reconfigured to allow buses to take the curve at Crystal Drive and 12th Street S. safely within a dedicated transit lane.
The complete streets project, meanwhile, includes signal improvements and a new traffic signal at the intersection of 12th Street S. and Army Navy Drive. The roadway under Route 1 will be widened, and there will be sidewalk improvements from Army Navy Drive to S. Eads Street.
According to the county, the new bus stations will have:
- Real-time bus information
- Benches, bike racks and bins for trash and recycling
- Solar-powered lighting inside the shelters
- Near-level boarding, with a raised curb for easy access
- Concrete bus pads
- Artwork consistent with other transitway bus stations
After last night’s meeting, some cyclists shared their dismay with the project and the meeting on Twitter.
A pair of roads on the southern end of Crystal City opened to two-way traffic earlier today.
The new traffic pattern comes after several months of construction to facilitate the change. It’s the third phase in a multi-year process of opening former one-way streets in Crystal City to two-way traffic, through construction and and roadway restriping.
As we reported in 2011:
The first phase of the project will add a southbound lane to the portion of Crystal Drive between 12th Street and 15th Street, just north of the Crystal City water park. It will also convert a one-way section of S. Clark Street between 12th and 15th Streets to a two-way road. Construction on this phase of the project is expected to begin in the spring of 2012 and wrap up in winter 2012.
A second phase is expected to begin construction in fall 2012. That phase will add a southbound lane to the one-way portion of Crystal Drive between 23rd Street and 27th Street. Changes will also be made to 27th Street, which runs between the Courtyard by Marriott and the Hyatt Regency hotels.
“The Crystal Drive Two-Way Conversion project will begin to establish the street network needed to support future development and transit improvements planned by the Crystal City Sector Plan and Crystal City Multimodal Study,” Arlington County said on the project website. “The intent of the project is to improve the navigability of Crystal City by converting Crystal Drive and the surrounding street network from a one-way to a two-way directional roadway.”
In addition to converting traffic lanes, the project will also add new traffic signals, street trees, ADA-compatible intersection upgrades and a new southbound bicycle lane.
The vision of “future development and transit improvements planned by the Crystal City Sector Plan” mentioned in 2011 seems to be coming to fruition, with a new slate of major redevelopment projects announced this week; the removal of Route 1 overpasses being discussed; and the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway expected to expand to Pentagon City in the near future.
More on today’s changes, from Arlington County’s website:
On Friday, Oct. 4, after the morning rush hour, Crystal Drive between 26th and 27th Streets South will be changed from one-way northbound to two-way traffic. 27th Street between Crystal Drive and South Clark Street also will be changed to two-way operations.
This section of Crystal Drive will have one travel lane in each direction. 27th Street will have two eastbound lanes to access Crystal Drive and Potomac Avenue, and one westbound lane providing direct access to the Hyatt and Route 1.
Police and the County’s construction team will be on-site throughout Friday to monitor the switch and help direct traffic. If possible, avoid this area during the changeover on mid-day Friday, and be prepared for the new traffic pattern when using these streets in the future.
Reminder: Later this morning stretches of two Crystal City roadways will permanently switch from one-way traffic to traffic in both directions. Not that there's anything wrong with that. https://t.co/i09rW4BPuf pic.twitter.com/E2IoVifolA
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) October 4, 2019
(Updated at 9:30 a.m.) Arlington County is considering a series of transportation improvements, including a fix to the complicated West and South Glebe Road intersection.
At Saturday’s County Board meeting the Board scheduled to vote on the approval of a series of grant requests for up to six projects with a total funding of up to $5.4 million.
The most expensive of the projects would be cleaning up the somewhat crash-prone Glebe Road intersection for $3 million in grant funding. W. Glebe Road, S. Glebe Road and S. Four Mile Run Drive all feed into the same intersection. By adjusting the geometry and the lane configuration, the county hopes to reduce instances of crashes.
Staff also note in the proposal that adjusting traffic signal timing and turn movements on S. Four Mile Run Drive could alleviate congestion on northbound I-395 by reducing backups on the ramp to S. Glebe Road.
The grant requests also include a series of transit improvements. The report notes that motorists frequently violate the Potomac Yard Transitway travel restrictions in Crystal City. The planned fix would add red markings to the lanes to denote the entry points to the transitway.
The 7Y Metrobus route would also gain additional noon-to-midnight bus service starting in December.
Also included among the grant requests is a funding request for $211,962 to extend the Commuter Store operations at the Pentagon for another 12 months. The store sells transit passes and provides commuter assistance, serving approximately 1,800 customers per month according to the staff report. Current funding for operations is set to expire on March 31, 2020.
Photos via Google Maps
A pair of major Crystal City transportation projects that were key parts of Arlington’s pitch to Amazon are now set to receive millions in state funds.
State transportation planners are recommending that officials send the county $52.9 million to help build a second entrance for the Crystal City Metro station, and another $6.6 million for an expansion of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard bus rapid transit system to Pentagon City.
The money is set to flow through Virginia’s “Smart Scale” program, a pot of money managed by Gov. Ralph Northam’s Commonwealth Transportation Board for big-ticket projects around the state. Each year, state planners recommend a series of improvements for funding by weighing various factors like how each one will reduce congestion or spur economic development efforts.
While the funding arrangement isn’t final just yet, the cash could help spur the construction of two of the five transportation improvements Northam’s negotiators promised to the tech giant in striking a deal to bring Amazon’s new headquarters to Crystal City and Pentagon City. A second, southwestern entrance to the proposed Potomac Yard Metro station, a new pedestrian bridge connecting Crystal City to Reagan National Airport and as-yet-undetermined improvements to Route 1 were also part of the incentive package.
However, the company didn’t put forward any cash on its own to afford the changes, leaving the county and the state to sort out the funding details. And the latest recommendations from state officials suggests that they’ll be drawing the bulk of the funding from “Smart Scale” cash, necessarily shrinking the size of the pot of transportation dollars available for the rest of the state.
Notably, the nearly $53 million set aside for the second Metro entrance is substantially less than the $78 million in “Smart Scale” money county officials requested for the project this past summer, back when it was still no sure bet that Amazon would pick Arlington. The project’s total price tag is estimated at $90.7 million.
County leaders have hoped for years now to build an eastern entrance to the station, to be located at the northwest corner of the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S., in order to make it more accessible to commuters and improve connectivity with the nearby Virginia Railway Express station.
Yet Arlington had trouble winning regional transportation funding for the project, in part due to some of the vagaries of the deal struck by state lawmakers to provide dedicated annual funding for the Metro system, but Amazon’s impending arrival seems to have bumped the effort to the front of the line. The project didn’t score especially well on the “Smart Scale” metrics designed to evaluate projects for funding, placing 83rd out of the 433 projects submitted for consideration this year, but it was still included among the 11 projects in the Northern Virginia area set to see more cash this year.
Documents prepared for the CTB don’t lay out where the county will find the remaining $37 million or so for the project. The regional Northern Virginia Transportation Authority previously sent $5 million to account for engineering and design costs, but Arlington officials declined to allocate much cash for the project in an update to its 10-year construction spending plan passed last year. Northam could opt to include more funding for the project in his state budget this year; the county’s proposed deal with Amazon also mentions that officials plan to draw up to $28 million over a 10-year period from tax revenues generated by the new headquarters to afford improvements in the area.
By contrast, the expansion of the dedicated bus lane system, commonly known as the “Transitway,” was already in the works when the Amazon deal came into focus. The “Smart Scale” cash will fund all but about $1.8 million of the project’s estimated cost.
The Transitway currently operates between the Crystal City Metro station and the Braddock Road station in Alexandria, with dedicated bus lanes and stations covering about 4.5 miles in all. The expansion would add another .75 miles to the route, linking the Pentagon City Metro to the Crystal City stop.
With Virginia Tech planning a new campus in Potomac Yard to coincide with Amazon’s arrival, and development in the neighborhood ramping up, the bus service would provide a link between all three areas before a new Metro station opens in the Alexandria neighborhood. The project ranked 10th overall on the “Smart Scale” metrics.
The CTB will spend the next few months finalizing these funding plans, and is set to approve them formally in June.